A few weeks ago, our wonderful Director of Religious Education let us know that she and her family would be moving out of state by April 1. She has been with us for three years and has absolutely transformed our Religious Education program--partly by enrolling her own daughter, a few grandkids, and enlisting the help of another friend as a teacher, who brought her own two children. When we dedicated kids that first year, we dedicated a horde of youngsters who were brought in by Lorie.
But she's been a dynamo with RE, even though she was not familiar with UUism at first and had a lot to learn. Under her direction, we've doubled the size of our program, our enrollment, and the interest of our congregation in RE!
So how do we replace her? This is the first time our congregation has done a real search for a DRE. When we found Lorie, it was more word of mouth than anything. She just appeared in the radar of the RE chair and was hired, just like that. But we're better organized now, we have a larger RE committee of parents and non-parents, and when we put an ad in the paper for a "liberal religious education director", we got several good applicants.
NOTE: a friendly congregant who reads this blog updated me on the extensive work that was done in hiring Lorie, work which I didn't fully see because my hours and time on the island were different at that time. Sorry for that oversight. It just looked like magic to me!
We've now interviewed and are leaning toward one candidate, though we haven't offered that person anything yet. But it's been an opportunity to assess what we want in our RE program, what we want RE to mean in the life of the congregation.
My personal view is that Religious Education is essential in a strong UU congregation. Our children need to know what their religious roots are, what our beliefs are, what we think about important religious concepts like a relationship with God, with Jesus, with other religious thinking.
It simply isn't true that if you're a UU you can believe anything you want! Since our beliefs shape our behavior and we ask certain behavior of our members, people tend to believe the same things, with variations. And we want our kids to be able to think through those behaviors and beliefs and own them, not just repeat them ritualistically. We want them to be able to answer their playground friends who may ask "do you believe in God?", "what do you believe about Jesus? or Mary or Buddha?", "are you saved?".
We give our kids time to work these things out themselves, through story, through wonderment, through conversation. We accept them as real people, with their own thoughts and ideas and preferences. We don't mind if they question what we tell them. But we do require that they treat others and the earth with respect and fairness.
The Favorite Son will doubtless have his own take on his RE upbringing, but I am convinced that the RE program at our home church in Colorado saved his bacon---and mine. Gosh, he was a rowdy kid, not a bad kid, just a small boy whose parents had divorced and who was too bright and too mouthy for his own good. He made a lot of parents uneasy; we were even kicked out of our "extended family" group because the two daughters of another family didn't like him. That still stings, but it's another story.
When the FS was in middle school, JUC offered what was then called AYS or "About Your Sexuality". Our current program is called OWL, "Our Whole Lives" and is a sexuality education course developed jointly by the UUA and the United Church of Christ. It's powerful stuff, and it's offered at various age levels.
The FS took it at about age 14 and that was a critical year for him. During that rough year of adolescence, he transitioned from being a kid who either alienated other kids by his behavior or enlisted them into his antics into a young man who cared about other people, who could take responsibility for his behavior, who could make amends for mistakes, who could tailor his behavior to meet the needs of most circumstances. It was a wonderful thing.
Throughout the years of his growing up, the church's RE program supported him (and his dad and me) steadily. The DRE during those years at JUC never gave up on him, nor did other adults who worked with the kids. They knew he was worth hanging onto and they loved him.
That's what I want for all our children, a place at church where they are loved and valued and given the chance to bloom, to be who they are in their heart of hearts. That's what every child needs and what many churches don't provide. I want our kids to know what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, how UUs live our lives, how we behave toward each other, how we respect ourselves and each other, and how we treat the earth.
So our new DRE, whoever that person may turn out to be, has a huge responsibility. But I know it will turn out well. There are some wonderful DREs nearby who will give all the help that person needs. Thanks to Kari and Kathy and Cathy, especially!